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James Boice Sermon: “Man, God’s Regent” – Genesis 1:28-31

SERIES: GENESIS – PART 12

Genesis 1-11 vol 1 Boice

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. – Genesis 1:28-31

In looking at the account of the creation of man by God in Genesis 1, we have already seen two points that are emphasized. First, man is created. This is repeated three times in verse 27, obviously for emphasis. Second, man is created in God’s image. This is repeated four times in verses 26 and 27. Following this clue to what are the most important ideas, we come next to the teaching that man was to rule over creation as God’s regent. This is mentioned twice, in verses 26 and 28.

Who is this who is to rule God’s creation? What is he like? What are his gifts? To whom is he responsible?

For the purpose of this study I want to follow the substance of an address given by Dr. John H. Gerstner, a former professor of church history at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, to the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology in 1977. His address considered five things about man as God made him. First, man was created, and he still is. Second, man was created male and female, and he still is. Third, man was created body and soul, and he still is. Fourth, man was created dominant over the animals, and he still is. Fifth, man was created holy, and he still is—not.

Created by God

We have already seen that man’s being created in the image of God involves his having a personality, a sense of morality and spirituality. But in relation to his rule over the animals, to which we have now come, man’s creation involves responsibility as well. If man were his own creator, he would be responsible to no one. But he is not his own creator. He is created by God, and this means that he is responsible to God for what he does in every area of his life and particularly for how he carries out the mandate to rule over creation. These verses record God as saying, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (v. 26). To man he says, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (v. 28). Dominion of any kind, but particularly dominion of this scope, implies responsibility.

Today in the western world there is a tendency to deny man’s moral responsibility on the basis of some kind of determinism. It usually takes one of two forms. It may be a physical, mechanical determinism (“man is the product of his genes and body chemistry”), or it may be a psychological determinism (“man is the product of his environment and of the earlier things that have happened to him”). In either case the individual is excused from responsibility for what he or she does. Thus, we have gone through a period in which criminal behavior was termed a sickness and the criminal was regarded more as a victim of his environment than as the victimizer. (Recently there is a tendency at least to reconsider this matter.) Less blatant but nevertheless morally reprehensible acts are excused with, “I suppose he just couldn’t help it.”

The biblical view of man could hardly be more different. As Francis Schaeffer correctly notes, “Since God has made man in his own image, man is not caught in the wheels of determinism. Rather man is so great that he can influence history for himself and for others, for this life and the life to come.” Man is fallen. But even in his fallen state he is responsible. He can do great things, or he can do things that are terrible.

God created the man and woman and gave them dominion over the created order. Consequently, they were responsible to him for what they did. When man sins, as the Genesis account goes on to show that he does, it is God who requires a reckoning: “Where are you? … Who told you that you were naked? … What is this you have done?” (Gen. 3:9, 11, 13). In the thousands of years since Eden many have convinced themselves that they are not responsible. But the testimony of Scripture is that this area of responsibility still stands and that all will one day answer to God at the judgment. “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12).

People are also responsible for their acts toward others. This is the reason for those biblical statements instituting capital punishment as a proper response to murder; for instance, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). These verses are not in the Bible as relics of a more barbarous age or because in the biblical outlook man is not valuable. They are there for precisely the opposite reason: Man is too valuable to be wantonly destroyed. Thus, the harshest penalties are reserved for such destruction. In a related way, James 3:9–10 forbid the use of the tongue to curse others because these others are also made in God’s image: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. … This should not be.” In these texts murder of another and cursing of another are forbidden on the grounds that the other person (even after the fall) retains something of God’s image and is therefore to be valued by us, as God also values him.

Male and Female

Second, man was created male and female, and it is still so. In our day many say that there are no essential differences between men and women, or that whatever differences there are, are accidental. This is understandable from those who think that mindless evolution is the means by which we have become what we are. But it is entirely incomprehensible from the standpoint of the Bible, which tells us that nothing is an accident and that sexuality in particular is the result of the creative act of God. Maleness and femaleness are therefore good and meaningful, just as other aspects of God’s creation are good and meaningful. Men are not women. Women are not men. One of the saddest things in the universe is a man who tries to be a woman or a woman who tries to be a man. “But who is superior?” someone asks. I answer: A man is absolutely superior to a woman—at being a man; a woman is absolutely superior to a man—at being a woman. But let a woman try to be a man or a man try to be a woman, and you have a monstrosity.

This is thought to deny equality before God, as if equality means indistinguishability. But this thought is neither biblical nor rational. The man and the woman are equal before God, but they are not indistinguishable. In the economy of the family (and the church), the man is to lead, protect, care for, cherish, act upon, and initiate. The woman is to respond, receive, be acted upon, bear, nurture, follow. In this the human family is a deliberate parallelism to the Trinity. We say in theology that within the Trinity the three persons are “one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.” But there are also distinctions according to which the second person of the Godhead, the Son, voluntarily subordinates himself to carry out the wishes of the Father in redemption, and the third person, the Holy Spirit, voluntarily subordinates himself to the united wills of the Father and Son.

The subordination of the woman to the man in marriage is a voluntary submission. As Gerstner writes, “No woman need accept the proposal of any man. But when she enters voluntarily into holy matrimony with that man, she becomes as 1 Peter 3 demands, ‘submissive’ and ‘obedient’ to her husband.” In the same way, children are under the divine command to “obey” and “honor” their fathers and mothers. “We know from sorry experience that many of them choose not to do so, but if they do (as they are under a divine mandate to do), they must do so voluntarily. So there is in the economy of the human family, which God made in his own image, a replica of the divine Trinity itself, in which there is a proper and voluntary subordination.”

Body and Soul

Third, God made man body and soul, and he still does. There is a debate at this point between those who believe in a three-part construction of man’s being and those who believe in a two-part construction (the position Gerstner takes in the address I am following). But the debate is not as significant as it sometimes seems. All parties recognize that the human being consists at least of the physical part that dies and needs to be resurrected and the immaterial part that lives beyond death. The only question is whether this immaterial part can be further distinguished as containing, on the one hand, a soul or personality and, on the other hand, a spirit that alone relates us to God.

Here the linguistic data should be determinative, but unfortunately it is not as clear as one could wish. Sometimes, particularly in the earlier parts of the Old Testament, soul (nephesh) and spirit (ruach) are used interchangeably. But in other places, particularly in the later parts of the Old Testament, ruach increasingly comes to designate that element by which men and women relate to God, in distinction from nephesh, which then meant merely the life principle. In conformity to this outlook, “soul” is used in reference to animals, while “spirit” is not. Conversely, the prophets, who heard the voice of God and communed with him in a special sense, are always said to be animated by the “spirit” (but not the “soul”) of God. In the New Testament the linguistic data is similar. While soul (psyche) and spirit (pneuma) are sometimes freely exchanged for one another, as in the Old Testament, pneuma nevertheless also expresses that particular capacity for relating to God that is the redeemed man’s glory as opposed to mere psyche, which even the unsaved man possesses (1 Cor. 2:9–16).

In this area the particular words are possibly less important than the truths they convey. Those who insist on the unity of man, nevertheless believe that he is more than mere matter. If they adhere to a two-part scheme, they recognize that there is that about him that sets him off from animals.

The body is the part we see, the part that possesses physical life. We have a body in common with every living thing.

The soul is the part of the person we call personality or self-identity. This is not a simple matter to talk about. The soul is related to the body through the brain, a part of the body. It is also related to the qualities we associate with spirit. Nevertheless, in general terms soul refers to what makes an individual unique. We might say that the soul centers in the mind and includes all likes and dislikes, special abilities or weaknesses, emotions, aspirations, and anything else that makes the individual different from all others of his species. It is because we have souls that we are able to have fellowship, love, and communication with one another.

But man does not only have fellowship, love, and communication with others of his species. He also has love and communion with God, and for this he needs a spirit. The spirit is that part of human nature that communes with God and partakes in some measure of God’s essence. God is nowhere said to be body or soul. But God is defined as spirit. “God is spirit,” said Jesus; therefore, “his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Because man is spirit (or comes to possess a spirit by means of the new birth) he can have fellowship with God and worship him.

In speaking of soul and body, Gerstner has a good insight. He notes that “the quirk of human nature in its present state, unlike its original condition, is that we have a tendency to recognize that the other person is a conscious, rational and moral soul, but that we treat ourselves as if we were merely a combination of chemicals and reactions. A boy once said to his mother, ‘Mother, why is it that whenever I do anything bad it’s because I am a bad boy, but whenever you do anything bad it’s because you are nervous?’ That is the principle. When the boy does something bad the mother recognizes that he is a spirit. He is a morally responsible individual who can be properly reprimanded for his misbehavior. But when she does the same thing … she reminds her son that she is a body of nerves and should somehow not be responsible.”

But we are responsible. The soul does have dominion over the body. Consequently, whatever our weaknesses may be, we are responsible to subordinate our fleshly desires and live for God.

Dominion Over the Animals

Fourth, man was created dominant over the animals—the point particularly stressed in these verses. Martin Luther wrote in his lectures on Genesis that in his opinion Adam in his original state was superior to the animals even in those points where they were strong. “I am fully convinced,” he said, “that before Adam’s sin his eyes were so sharp and clear that they surpassed those of the lynx and eagle. He was stronger than the lions and the bears, whose strength is very great; and he handled them the way we handle puppies.” Later on, as he begins to think of Adam’s intellectual powers, he says, “If … we are looking for an outstanding philosopher, let us not overlook our first parents while they were still free from sin.” It was with such capacities that man ruled creation.

At the present time we have this horrible situation. In his sin man either tends to dominate and thus violate the creation, subjecting it to his own selfish ends, or else he tends to fall down and worship the creation, not realizing that his debasement is brought about in the process. As the Bible describes them, the man and the woman were made “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Ps. 8:5); that is, they were placed between the highest and lowest beings, between angels and beasts. But it is significant that man is described as being slightly lower than the angels rather than being slightly higher than the beasts. That is, man’s privilege is that he is to be a mediating figure, but he is also to be one who looks up rather than down. The unfortunate thing is that when man severs the tie that binds him to God and tries to cast off God’s rule, he does not rise up to take God’s place, as he desires to do, but rather sinks to a more bestial level. In fact, he comes to think of himself as a beast (“the naked ape”) or, even worse, a machine.

Holy and Still is—Not

This brings us to the last point: God created man holy, and now he is—not. The other items we have considered remain, though they are distorted by sin in each case. Man is still a created being, though weak and destined to die. He is still male and female. He is still body and soul. He is still dominant over the animals. But man was also created holy as God is holy, and of this original righteousness not a vestige remains. Rather, as the Scriptures say, “Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5).

This is why man needs a Savior. God made man upright, but he sought out his own devices. In turning each to his or her own way man brought ruin on the race. Now, not only is no one holy, none is capable even of regaining that holiness. Before the fall, to use Augustine’s phrase, man was posse non peccare (“able not to sin”). But he was also, as Augustine also faithfully declared in accordance with the Bible’s teaching, posse peccare (“able to sin”), which choice he exploited. Now he is non posse non peccare (“not able not to sin”). It is as though he jumped into a pit where he is now trapped. He must remain in that pit until God by grace through the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit lifts him out.

About the Preacher

Boice JM in pulpit

James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well-known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. James Boice was one of my favorite Bible teachers. Thankfully – many of his books and expositions of Scripture are still in print and more are becoming available. The sermon above was adapted from Chapter 12 in Genesis 1-11: An Expositional Commentaryvol. 1: Creation and Fall. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Under Dr. Boice’s leadership, Tenth Presbyterian Church became a model for ministry in America’s northeastern inner cities. When he assumed the pastorate of Tenth Church there were 350 people in regular attendance. At his death the church had grown to a regular Sunday attendance in three services of more than 1,200 persons, a total membership of 1,150 persons. Under his leadership, the church established a pre-school for children ages 3-5 (now defunct), a high school known as City Center Academy, a full range of adult fellowship groups and classes, and specialized outreach ministries to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV-positive clients, and the homeless. Many of these ministries are now free-standing from the church.

Dr. Boice gave leadership to groups beyond his own organization. For ten years he served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, from its founding in 1977 until the completion of its work in 1988. ICBI produced three classic, creedal documents: “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics” and “The Chicago Statement on the Application of the Bible to Contemporary Issues.” The organization published many books, held regional “Authority of Scripture” seminars across the country, and sponsored the large lay “Congress on the Bible I,” which met in Washington, D.C., in September 1987. He also served on the Board of Bible Study Fellowship.

He founded the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (Alliance) in 1994, initially a group of pastors and theologians who were focused on bringing the 20th and now 21st century church to a new reformation. In 1996 this group met and wrote the Cambridge Declaration. Following the Cambridge meetings, the Alliance assumed leadership of the programs and publications formerly under Evangelical Ministries, Inc. (Dr. Boice) and Christians United for Reformation (Horton) in late 1996.

Dr. Boice was a prodigious world traveler. He journeyed to more than thirty countries in most of the world’s continents, and he taught the Bible in such countries as England, France, Canada, Japan, Australia, Guatemala, Korea and Saudi Arabia. He lived in Switzerland for three years while pursuing his doctoral studies.

Dr. Boice held degrees from Harvard University (A.B.), Princeton Theological Seminary (B.D.), the University of Basel, Switzerland (D. Theol.) and the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church (D.D., honorary).

A prolific author, Dr. Boice had contributed nearly forty books on a wide variety of Bible related themes. Most are in the form of expositional commentaries, growing out of his preaching: Psalms (1 volume), Romans (4 volumes), Genesis (3 volumes), Daniel, The Minor Prophets (2 volumes), The Sermon on the Mount, John (5 volumes, reissued in one), Ephesians, Phillippians and The Epistles of John. Many more popular volumes: Hearing God When You Hurt, Mind Renewal in a Mindless Christian Life, Standing on the Rock, The Parables of Jesus, The Christ of Christmas, The Christ of the Open Tomb and Christ’s Call to Discipleship. He also authored Foundations of the Christian Faith a 740-page book of theology for laypersons. Many of these books have been translated into other languages, such as: French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

He was married to Linda Ann Boice (born McNamara), who continues to teach at the high school they co-founded.

Source: Taken directly from the Aliance of Confessing Evangelicals’ Website

James Montgomery Boice’s Books:

1970 Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John (Zondervan)
1971 Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1972 The Sermon on the Mount (Zondervan)
1973 How to Live the Christian Life (Moody; originally, How to Live It Up,
Zondervan)
1974 Ordinary Men Called by God (Victor; originally, How God Can Use
Nobodies)
1974 The Last and Future World (Zondervan)
1975-79 The Gospel of John: An Expositional Commentary (5 volumes,
Zondervan; issued in one volume, 1985; 5 volumes, Baker 1999)
1976 “Galatians” in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Zondervan)
1977 Can You Run Away from God? (Victor)
1977 Does Inerrancy Matter? (Tyndale)
1977 Our Sovereign God, editor (Baker)
1978 The Foundation of Biblical Authority, editor (Zondervan)
1979 The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1979 Making God’s Word Plain, editor (Tenth Presbyterian Church)
1980 Our Savior God: Studies on Man, Christ and the Atonement, editor (Baker)
1982-87 Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (3 volumes, Zondervan)
1983 The Parables of Jesus (Moody)
1983 The Christ of Christmas (Moody)
1983-86 The Minor Prophets: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes,
Zondervan)
1984 Standing on the Rock (Tyndale). Reissued 1994 (Baker)
1985 The Christ of the Open Tomb (Moody)
1986 Foundations of the Christian Faith (4 volumes in one, InterVarsity
Press; original volumes issued, 1978-81)
1986 Christ’s Call to Discipleship (Moody)
1988 Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, editor (Multnomah)
1988, 98 Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1989 Daniel: An Expositional Commentary (Zondervan)
1989 Joshua: We Will Serve the Lord (Revell)
1990 Nehemiah: Learning to Lead (Revell)
1992-94 Romans (4 volumes, Baker)
1992 The King Has Come (Christian Focus Publications)
1993 Amazing Grace (Tyndale)
1993 Mind Renewal in a Mindless Age (Baker)
1994-98 Psalms (3 volumes, Baker)
1994 Sure I Believe, So What! (Christian Focus Publications)
1995 Hearing God When You Hurt (Baker)
1996 Two Cities, Two Loves (InterVarsity)
1996 Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals, editor with
Benjamin E. Sasse (Baker)
1997 Living By the Book (Baker)
1997 Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Baker)
1999 The Heart of the Cross, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
1999 What Makes a Church Evangelical?
2000 Hymns for a Modern Reformation, with Paul S. Jones
2001 Matthew: An Expositional Commentary (2 volumes, Baker)
2001 Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (Crossway)
2002 The Doctrines of Grace, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)
2002 Jesus on Trial, with Philip Graham Ryken (Crossway)

Chapters

1985 “The Future of Reformed Theology” in David F. Wells, editor,
Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development
(Eerdmans)
1986 “The Preacher and Scholarship” in Samuel T. Logan, editor, The
Preacher and Preaching: Reviving the Art in the Twentieth Century
(Presbyterian and Reformed)
1992 “A Better Way: The Power of Word and Spirit” in Michael Scott
Horton, editor, Power Religion: The Selling Out of the Evangelical Church?
(Moody)
1994 “The Sovereignty of God” in John D. Carson and David W. Hall,
editors, To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th
Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly (Banner of Truth Trust)

SOURCE: from the Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, website

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Why Sola Scriptura is Crucial to Evangelicalism by Dr. R.C. Sproul

“The only source and norm of all Christian knowledge is the Holy Scripture.” This thematic statement introduces De Scriptura Sacra of Heinrich Heppe’s classic work in Reformed dogmatics and provides a succinct expression of the Reformation slogan: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone). The two key words that are used to crystallize the sola character of Scripture are source and norm.

The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura was given the status of the formal cause of the Reformation by Melanchthon and his Lutheran followers. The formal cause was distinguished from the material cause of Sola Fide (by faith alone). Though the chief theological issue of the Reformation was the question of the matter of justification, the controversy touched heavily on the underlying question of authority. As is usually the case in theological controversy, the issue of ultimate authority lurked in the background (though it was by no means hidden or obscure) of Luther’s struggle with Rome over justification. The question of the source of Luther’s doctrine and the normative authority by which it was to be judged was vital to his cause.

Sola Scriptura and Inerrancy

A brief historical recapitulation of the steps that led to Luther’s Sola Scriptura dictum may be helpful. After Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, a series of debates, correspondence, charges, and countercharges ensued, culminating in Luther’s dramatic stand at Worms in April 1521. The two most significant transitional points between the theses of 1517 and the Diet of Worms of 1521 were the debates at Augsburg and Leipzig.

In October 1518 Luther met with Cardinal Cajetan of the Dominicans. Cajetan was acknowledged to be the most learned theologian of the Roman Curia. In the course of their discussions Cajetan was able to elicit from Luther his views on the infallibility of the pope. Luther asserted that the pope could err and claimed that Pope Clement VI’s bull Unigenitus (1343) was contrary to Scripture.

In the summer of 1519 the dramatic encounter between Luther and Johannes von Eck took place at Leipzig. In this exchange Eck elicited from Luther the admission of his belief that not only could the pope err but church councils could and did err as well. It was at Leipzig that Luther made clear his assertion: Scripture alone is the ultimate, divine authority in all matters pertaining to religion.

Gordon Rupp gives the following account:

Luther affirmed that “among the articles of John Huss and the Hussites which were condemned, are many which are truly Christian and evangelical, and which the church universal cannot condemn!” This was sensational! There was a moment of shocked silence, and then an uproar above which could be heard Duke George’s disgusted, “Gad, Sir, that’s the Plague!… ” Eck pressed his advantage home, and Luther, trapped, admitted that since their decrees are also of human law, Councils may err.

So by the time Luther stood before the Diet of Worms, the principle of Sola Scriptura was already well established in his mind and work. Only the Scripture carries absolute normative authority. Why? For Luther the sola of Sola Scriptura was inseparably related to the Scriptures’ unique inerrancy. It was because popes could and did err and because councils could and did err that Luther came to realize the supremacy of Scripture. Luther did not despise church authority nor did he repudiate church councils as having no value. His praise of the Council of Nicea is noteworthy. Luther and the Reformers did not mean by Sola Scriptura that the Bible is the only authority in the church. Rather, they meant that the Bible is the only infallible authority in the church.

Paul Althaus summarizes the train of Luther’s thought by saying:

We may trust unconditionally only in the Word of God and not in the teaching of the fathers; for the teachers of the Church can err and have erred. Scripture never errs. Therefore it alone has unconditional authority. The authority of the theologians of the Church is relative and conditional. Without the authority of the words of Scripture, no one can establish hard and fast statements in the Church.

Thus Althaus sees Luther’s principle of Sola Scriptura arising as a corollary of the inerrancy of Scripture. To be sure, the fact that Scripture is elevated to be the sole authority of the church does not carry with it the necessary inference that it is inerrant. It could be asserted that councils, popes, and the Bible all err and still postulate a theory of Sola Scriptura. Scripture could be considered on a primus inter pares (“first among equals”) basis with ecclesiastical authority, giving it a kind of primacy among errant sources. Or Scripture could be regarded as carrying unique authority solely on the basis of its being the primary historical source of the gospel. But the Reformers’ view of Sola Scriptura was higher than this. The Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura involved inerrancy.

Sola Scriptura, ascribing to the Scriptures a unique authority, must be understood in a normative sense. Not descriptive, but rather normative authority is meant by the formula. The normative character of the Sola Scriptura principle may be seen by a brief survey of sixteenth-century Reformed confessions.

The Theses of Berne (1528): The Church of Christ makes no laws or commandments without God’s Word. Hence all human traditions, which are called ecclesiastical commandments, are binding upon us only in so far as they are based on and commanded by God’s Word (Sec. II).

The Geneva Confession (1536): First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as a rule of faith and religion, without mixing with it any other things which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord (Sec. I).

The French Confession of Faith (1559): We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives its authority from him alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as it is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these Holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them (Art. V).

The Belgic Confession (1561): We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and confirmation of our faith; believing, without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnessed in our hearts that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves (Art. V). Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever doth not agree with this infallible rule (Art. VII).

Second Helvetic Confession (1566): Therefore, we do not admit any other judge than Christ himself, who proclaims by the Holy Scriptures what is true, what is false, what is to be followed, or what is to be avoided (Chap. II).

Uniformly the sixteenth-century confessions elevate the authority of Scripture over any other conceivable authority. Thus, even the testimony of angels is to be judged by the Scriptures. Why? Because, as Luther believed, the Scriptures alone are inerrant. Sola Scriptura as the supreme norm of ecclesiastical authority rests ultimately on the premise of the infallibility of the Word of God.

Extent of the Norm

To what extent does the Sola Scriptura principle of authority apply? We hear statements that declare Scripture to be the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.” Does this limit the scope of biblical infallibility? Among advocates of limited inerrancy we hear the popular notion that the Bible is inerrant or infallible only when it speaks of matters of faith and practice. Matters of history or cosmology may contain error but not matters of faith and practice. Here we see a subtle shift from the Reformation principle. Note the difference in the following propositions:

A. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

B. The Bible is infallible only when it speaks of faith and practice.

In premise A, “faith and practice” are generic terms that describe the Bible. In premise B, “faith and practice” presumably describe only a particular part of the Bible. Premise A affirms that there is but one infallible authority for the church. The proposition sets no content limit on the infallibility of the Scriptures. Premise B gives a reduced canon of that which is infallible; that is, the Bible is infallible only when it speaks of faith and practice. This second premise represents a clear and decisive departure from the Reformation view.

Premise A does not say that the Bible provides information about every area of life, such as mathematics or physics. But it affirms that what he Bible teaches, it teaches infallibly.

The Source of Authority

Heppe’s sola indicates that the Bible is not only the unique and final authority of the church but is also the “only source of all Christian knowledge.” At first glance this statement may seem to suggest that the only source of revelation open to man is that found in Scripture. But that is not the intent of Heppe’s statement, nor is it the intent of the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura.

Uniformly the Reformers acknowledged general revelation as a source of knowledge of God. The question of whether or not that general revelation yields a bona fide natural theology was and is widely disputed, but there is no serious doubt that the Reformers affirmed a revelation present in nature. Thus the sola does not exclude general revelation but points beyond it to the sufficiency of Scripture as the unique source of written special revelation.

The context of the Sola Scriptura schema with respect to source was the issue (raised over against Rome) regarding the relationship of Scripture and Tradition. Central to the debate was the Council of Trent’s declaration regarding Scripture and Tradition. (Trent was part of the Roman counteroffensive to the Reformation, and Sola Scriptura was not passed over lightly in this counter-offensive.)

In the Fourth Session of the Council of Trent the following decree was formulated: This (Gospel), of old promised through the Prophets in the Holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, promulgated first with His own mouth, and then commanded it to be preached by His Apostles to every creature as the source at once of all saving truth and rules of conduct. It also clearly perceives that these truths and rules are contained in the written books and in the unwritten traditions, which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ Himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down to us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand. Following then, the examples of the Orthodox fathers, it receives and venerates with a feeling of piety and reverence all the books both of the Old and New Testaments, since one God is the author of both; also the traditions, whether they relate to faith or to morals, as having been dictated either orally by Christ or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic church in unbroken succession.

In this decree the Roman Catholic church apparently affirmed two sources of special revelation—Scripture and the Tradition of the church—although in recent years this “dual source” theory has come into question within the Roman church.

G. C. Berkouwer’s work on Vatican Council II provides a lengthy discussion of current interpretations of the Tridentine formula on Scripture and Tradition. Some scholars argue that Tradition adds no new content to Scripture but merely serves either as a depository in the life of the church or as a formal interpretive tool of the church. A technical point of historical research concerning Trent sheds some interesting light on the matter. In the original draft of the fourth session of Trent the decree read that “the truths … are contained partly [partim] in Scripture and partly [partim] in the unwritten traditions.” But at a decisive point in the Council’s deliberations two priests, Nacchianti and Bonnucio rose in protest against the partim … partim formula. These men protested on the grounds that this view would destroy the uniqueness and sufficiency of Scripture. All we know from that point on is that the words partly … partly were removed from the text and replaced by the word and (et). Did this mean that the Council responded to the protest and perhaps left the relationship between Scripture and Tradition purposely ambiguous? Was the change stylistic, meaning that the Council still maintained two distinct sources of revelation? These questions are the focus of the current debate among Roman theologians.

One thing is certain. The Roman church has interpreted Trent as affirming two sources of special revelation since the sixteenth century. Vatican I spoke of two sources. The papal encyclical Humani Generis spoke of “sources of revelation.” Even Pope John XXIII spoke of Scripture and Tradition in Ad Petri Cathedram.

Not only has the dual-source theory been confirmed both by ecumenical councils and papal encyclicals, but tradition has been appealed to on countless occasions to validate doctrinal formulations that divide Rome and Protestantism. This is particularly true regarding decisions in the area of Mariology.

Over against this dual-source theory stands the sola of Sola Scriptura. Again, the Reformers did not despise the treasury of church tradition. The great councils of Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and Constantinople receive much honor in Protestant tradition. The Reformers themselves gave tribute to the insights of the church fathers. Calvin’s love for Augustine is apparent throughout the Institutes. Luther’s expertise in the area of Patristics was evident in his debates with Cajetan and Eck. He frequently quotes the fathers as highly respected ecclesiastical authorities. But the difference is this: For the Reformers no church council, synod, classical theologian, or early church father is regarded as infallible. All are open to correction and critique. We have no Doctor Irrefragabilis of Protestantism.

Protestant churches have tended to be confessional in character. Subscription to confessions and creeds has been mandatory for the clergy and parish of many denominations. Confessions have been used as a test of orthodoxy and conformity to the faith and practice of the church. But the confessions are all regarded as reformable. They are considered reformable because they are considered fallible. But the Sola Scriptura principles in its classic application regards the Scripture as irreformable because of its infallibility. Thus the two primary thrusts of Sola Scriptura point to:

1) Scripture’s uniqueness as normative authority and

2) its uniqueness as the source of special revelation. Norm and source are the twin implicates of the Sola Scriptura principle.

Is Sola Scriptura the Essence of Christianity?

In a recent publication on questions of Scripture, Bernard Ramm wrote an essay entitled, “Is ‘Scripture Alone’ the Essence of Christianity?” Using the nineteenth-century German penchant for the quest of the “Wesen” of Christianity as a jumping-off point, Ramm gives a brief history of the liberal-conservative controversy concerning the role of Scripture in the Christian faith. Defining Wesen as “the essence of something, the real spirit or burden of a treatise, the heart of the matter,” he concludes that Scripture is not the Wesen of Christianity. He provides a historical survey to indicate that neither the Reformers nor the strong advocates of inerrancy, A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, believed that Sola Scriptura was the essence of Christianity. Ramm cites numerous quotations from Hodge and Warfield that speak of the Scriptures as being “absolutely infallible,” and “without error of facts or doctrines.” Yet these men affirmed that “Christianity was true independently of any theory of inspiration, and its great doctrines were believable within themselves.”

Ramm goes on to express grave concern about the present debate among evangelicals concerning inerrancy. Here his concern focuses not on the teaching of Hodge and Warfield but on the attitudes of their contemporary disciples who, in Ramm’s opinion, go beyond their forefathers in asserting a particular view of Scripture as being Christianity’s essence. Ramm writes:

From the other writings of Warfield in particular, it would be impossible to say that he identified the Wesen of Christianity with his view of Holy Scripture. He was enough of a historian of theology to avoid saying that. The “inspiration” article was an essay in strategy. However, among current followers of the so-called Warfield position there have been certain shifts away from the original strategic stance of the essay. One’s doctrine of Scripture has become now the first and most important doctrine, one’s theory of the wesen of Christianity, so that all other doctrines have validity now only as they are part of the inerrant Scripture. Thus evangelical teachers, or evangelical schools or evangelical movements, can be judged as to whether or not they are true to the wesen of Christianity by their theory of inspiration. It can be stated even more directly: an evangelical has made a theory of inspiration the wesen of Christianity if he assumes that the most important doctrine in a man’s theology, and most revelatory of the entire range of his theological thought, is his theology of inspiration.

It appears from this statement that the “essence” of Ramm’s concern for the present state of evangelicalism is that one’s doctrine of Scripture is viewed as the essence or wesen of Christianity. This writer can only join hands with Ramm in total agreement with his concern. To make one’s view of Scripture in general or of inspiration in particular the essence of Christianity would be to commit an error of the most severe magnitude. To subordinate the importance of the gospel itself to the importance of our historical source book of it would be to obscure the centrality of Christ. To subordinate Sola Fide to Sola Scriptura would be to misunderstand radically the wesen of the Reformation. Clearly Ramm is correct in taking his stand on this point with Hodge, Warfield, and the Reformers. Who can object to that?

One may be troubled, however, by a portion of Ramm’s stated concern. Who are these “current followers” of Warfield who in fact do maintain that Sola Scriptura is the heart or essence of Christianity? What disciple of Warfield’s has ever maintained that Sola Scriptura is essential to salvation? Ramm provides us with no names or documentary evidence to demonstrate that his deep concern is warranted.

To be sure, strong statements have been made by followers of the Warfield school of the crucial importance of Sola Scriptura and the centrality of biblical authority to all theological disputes. Perhaps these statements have contained some “overkill” in the passion of debate, which is always regrettable. We must be very cautious in our zeal to defend a high view of Scripture not to give the impression that we are talking about an article on which our salvation depends.

We can cite the following statements by advocates of the Warfield school that could be construed as a possible basis for Ramm’s concern. In God’s Inerrant Word, J. I. Packer makes the following assertion:

What Luther thus voiced at Worms shows the essential motivation and concern, theological and religious, of the entire Reformation movement: namely that the Word of God alone must rule, and no Christian man dare do other than allow it to enthrone itself in his conscience and heart.

Here Packer calls the notion of Sola Scriptura “the essential motivation and concern” of the Reformation. In itself this quote certainly suggests that Packer views Sola Scriptura as the essence of the Reformation.

However, in defense of Packer it must be noted that to say Sola Scriptura was the essential motivation of the Reformation movement is not to say that Sola Scriptura is the essence of Christianity. He is speaking here of a historical controversy. That Sola Scriptura was at the heart of the controversy and central to the debate cannot be doubted. To say that Sola Scriptura was an essential motif or concern of the Reformation cannot be doubted. That is was the essential concern may be brought into question; this may be regraded as an overstatement. But again, in fairness to Packer, it must be noted that earlier in his essay he had already indicated that Justification by Faith Alone was the material principle. So he had already maintained that Sola Scriptura was subordinate to Sola Fide in the controversy. In any case, though the word essential is used, there is no hint here that Packer maintains that Sola Scriptura is the essence of Christianity.

In a recent unpublished essay, Richard Lovelace of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary cites both Harold Lindsell and Francis Schaeffer as men who have sounded urgent warnings concerning the relationship between inerrancy and evangelicalism. Lovelace cites the following statements of Schaeffer:

There is not use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger, if at the same time appreciable parts … are getting soft at that which is the central core, namely the Scriptures.… We must say most lovingly but clearly: evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.

Again Schaeffer is cited: “Holding to a strong view of Scripture or not holding to it is the watershed of the evangelical world.” In these statements Francis Schaeffer maintains that the Scriptures are:

1) the “central core” of evangelicalism,

2) a mark of “consistent evangelicalism,” and

3) the “watershed of the evangelical world.”

These are strong assertions about the role of Sola Scriptura, but they are made with reference to evangelicalism, not Christianity (though I am sure Schaeffer believes evangelicalism is the purest expression of Christianity to be found). Evangelicalism refers to a historical position or movement. When he speaks of “watersheds,” he is speaking of crucial historical turning points. When he speaks of “consistent” evangelicalism, he implies there may be such a thing as inconsistent evangelicalism.

The troublesome quote of Schaeffer is that one in which he says the Scriptures are “the central core” of evangelicalism. Here “core” is in the singular with the definite article giving it a sola character. Does Schaeffer mean that the Bible is the core of evangelicalism and the gospel is the husk? Is Sola Scriptura the center and Sola Fide at the periphery of evangelicalism? It is hard to think that Schaeffer would make such an assertion. Indeed, one may question if Schaeffer means what he in fact does say here. Had he said, “Scripture is at the core of evangelicalism,” there would be no dispute. But to say it is the core appears an overstatement. Perhaps we have here a slip of the pen, which any of us can and frequently do make.

In similar fashion Harold Lindsell may be quoted: “Is the term ‘evangelical’ broad enough in its meaning to include within it believers in inerrancy and believers in an inerrancy limited to matters of faith and practice?” Lindsell raises the question of whether or not inerrancy of the entire Bible is essential to the term evangelical. The question raised is: If Sola Scriptura in its fullest sense is of the Wesen of evangelicalism, can one who espouses limited inerrancy be genuinely called evangelical? The issue is the meaning of the term evangelical. Does it carry with it the automatic assumption of full inerrancy? Again we must point out the difference between the historical label “evangelical” and what is essential to Christianity.

None of the scholars mentioned have said that adherence to inerrancy or Sola Scriptura is essential to salvation. None have Sola Scriptura as the Wesen of Christianity.

It could be said that the argument of the writer of this chapter is constructed on straw men who “come close” to asserting that Sola Scriptura is the essence of Christianity but who, in the final analysis, shrink for such an assertion. But it is not my purpose to create straw men. It is simply to find some basis for Ramm’s assertion about modern followers of Warfield. Since I have not been able to find any followers of Warfield who assert Sola Scriptura as the Wesen of Christianity, the best I can do is to cite examples of statements that could possibly be misconstrued to assert that. It is probably charity that restrained Ramm from naming those he had in mind. But unfortunately, the absence of names casts a shadow of suspicion over all modern followers of Warfield who hold to full inerrancy.

Though advocates of inerrancy in the full sense of Sola Scriptura do not regard it as being essential to salvation, they do maintain that the principle is crucial to Christianity and to consistent evangelicalism. That in Scripture we have divine revelation is no small matter. That the gospel rests not on human conjecture or relational speculation is of vital importance. But there is no quarrel with Ramm on these points. He summarizes his own position by saying:

1. There is no questioning of the Sola Scriptura in theology. Scripture is the supreme and final authority in theological decision-making.

2. One’s views of revelation, inspiration, and interpretation are important. They do implicate each other. Our discussion rather has been whether a certain view of inspiration could stand as the wesen of Christianity. We have in no manner suggested that matters of revelation, inspiration, and interpretation are unimportant in theology.

Here we delight in agreement with this strong affirmation of the crucial importance of Sola Scriptura.

Strangely, however, Ramm continues his summary by saying, “If the integrity of other evangelicals, evangelical schools, or evangelical movements are assessed by their view of inspiration, then, for them, inspiration has become the wesen of Christianity.” The inference Ramm draws at this point is at once puzzling and astonishing, and perhaps we meet here merely another case of overstatement or a slip of the pen. How would it follow from an assessment of others’ evangelicalism as being consistent or inconsistent according to their view of Scripture that inspiration has become the wesen of Christianity? This inference involves a quantum leap of logic.

If the first two points of Ramm’s summary are correct—that Sola Scriptura is important and that it implicates views of interpretation and theological decision making—why should not a school’s or movement’s integrity (a fully integrated stance) be assessed by this principle? Though Sola Scriptura is not the wesen of Christianity, it is still of crucial importance. If a school or movement softens its view of Scripture, that does not mean it has repudiated the essence of Christianity. But it does mean that a crucial point of doctrine and classical evangelical unity has been compromised. If, as Ramm suggests, one’s view of Scripture is so important, then a weakening of that view should concern us.

The issue of full or limited inerrancy is a serious one among those within the framework of historic evangelicalism. In the past a healthy and energetic spirit of cooperation has existed among evangelicals from various and diverse theological persuasions and ecclesiastical affiliations. Lutherans and Baptists, Calvinists and Arminians, and believers of all sorts have united in evangelical activity. What has been the cohesive force of that unity? In the first instance, there has been a consensus of catholic articles of faith, such as the deity of Christ. In the second instance, a strong point of unity has been the cardinal doctrine of the Protestant Reformation: justification by faith alone. In the last instance, there has been the unifying factor of Sola Scriptura in the sense of full inerrancy. The only “creed” that has bound the Evangelical Theological Society together, for example, has been the affirmation of inerrancy. Now that point of unity is in jeopardy. The essence of Christianity is not the issue. But a vital point of consistent evangelicalism is.

Sola Scriptura and Limited Inerrancy

Is Sola Scriptura compatible with a view of Scripture that limits inerrancy to matters of faith and practice? Theoretically it would seem to be possible if “faith and practice” could be separated from any part of Scripture. So long as biblical teaching regarding faith and practice were held to be normative for the Christian community, there would appear to be no threat to the essence of Christianity. However, certain problems exist with such a view of Scripture that do seriously threaten the essence of Christianity.

The first major problem we encounter with limited inerrancy is the problem of canon reduction. The canon or “norm” of Scripture is reduced de facto to that content relating to faith and practice. This immediately raises the hermeneutical question concerning what parts of Scripture deal with faith. As evangelicals wrestle among themselves in intramural debates, they must keep one eye focused on the liberal world of biblical scholarship, for the principle of the reduction of canon to matters of “faith” is precisely the chief operative in Bultmann’s hermeneutic. Bultmann thinks we must clear away the prescientific and faulty historical “husk” of Scripture to get to the viable kernel of “faith.” Thus, although Bultmann has no inerrant kernel or kerygma to fall back on, his problem of canon reduction remains substantially the same as that of those who limit inerrancy to faith and practice.

Before someone cries foul or cites the informal fallacy of argumentum ad hominem (abusive) or the “guilt by association” fallacy, let this concern be clarified. I am not saying that advocates of limited inerrancy are cryptic or even incipient Bultmannians, but that there is one very significant point of similarity between the two schools: canon reductionism. Evangelical advocates of limited inerrancy are not expected to embrace Bultmann’s mythical view of New Testament supernaturalism. But their method has no inherent safeguard from an arbitrary delimitation of the scope of the biblical canon.

The second serious problem, closely related to the first, is the problem of the relationship of faith and history, perhaps the most serious question of contemporary New Testament scholarship. If we limit the notion of inerrancy to matters of faith and practice, what becomes of biblical history? Is the historical substratum of the gospel negotiable? Are only those portions of the biblical narrative that have a clear bearing on faith inerrant? How do we escape dehistoricizing the gospel and relegating it to a level of supratemporal existential “decision”? We know that the Bible is not an ordinary history book but a book of redemptive history. But is it not also a book of redemptive history? If we exclude the realm of history from the category of inspiration or inerrancy either in whole or in part, do we not inevitably lose the gospel?

The third problem we face with limiting inerrancy to matters of faith and practice is an apologetic one. To those critics outside the fellowship of evangelicals, the notion of “limited inerrancy” appears artificial and contrived. Limited inerrancy gets us off the apologetical hook by making us immune to religious-historical criticism. We can eat our cake and have it too. The gospel is preserved; and our faith and practice remains intact while we admit errors in matters of history and cosmology. We cannot believe the Bible concerning earthly things, but we stake our lives on what it says concerning heavenly things. That approach was totally abrogated by our Lord (John 3:12).

How do we explain and defend the idea that the Bible is divinely superintended in part of its content but not all of it? Which part is inspired? Why only the faith and practice parts? Again, which are the faith and practice parts? Can we not justly be accused of “weaseling” if we adopt such a view? We remove our faith from the arena of historical verification nor falsification. This is a fatal blow for apologetics as the reasoned defense of Christianity.

Finally, we face the problem of the domino theory. Frequently this concern is dismissed out of hand as being so much alarmism. But our doctrine of Scripture is not a child’s game of dominoes. We know instances in which men have abandoned belief in full inerrancy but have remained substantially orthodox in the rest of their theology. We are also aware of the sad instances in which full inerrancy is affirmed yet the substance of theology is corrupt. Inerrancy is no guarantee of biblical orthodoxy. Yet even a cursory view of church history has shown some pattern of correlation between a weakening of biblical authority and serious defection regarding the Wesen of Christianity. The wesen of nineteenth-century liberalism is hardly the gospel evangelicals embrace.

We have already seen, within evangelical circles, a move from limited inerrancy to challenges of matters of faith and practice. When the apostle Paul is depicted as espousing two mutually contradictory views of the role of women in the church, we see a critique of apostolic teaching that does touch directly on the practice of the church. In the hotly disputed issue of homosexuality we see denominational commissions not only supplementing biblical authority with corroborative evidence drawn from modern sources of medical psychological study but also “correcting” the biblical view by such secular authority.The direction of these movements of thought is a matter of grave concern for advocates of full inerrancy.

We face a crisis of authority in the church. It is precisely our faith and our practice that is in question. It is for faith and practice that we defend a fully infallible rule—a total view of Sola Scriptura.

We know some confusion has existed (much unnecessarily) about the meaning of full inerrancy. But with all the problems of definition that plague the concept, we do not think it has died the death of a thousand qualifications.

We are concerned about Sola Scriptura for many reasons. But we affirm it in the final analysis not because it was the view of the Reformers, not because we slavishly revere Hodge and Warfield, not even because we are afraid of dominoes or a difficult apologetic. We defend it and express our deep concern about it because we believe it is the truth. It is a truth we do not want to negotiate. We earnestly desire dialogue with our evangelical brothers and colaborers who differ from us. We want to heal the wounds that controversy so frequently brings. We know our own views are by no means inerrant. But we believe inerrancy is true and is of vital importance to our common cause of the gospel.

Further dialogue within the evangelical world should at least help us clarify what real differences there are among us. Such clarification is important if there is to be any hope of resolving those differences. We do not intend to communicate that a person’s Christian faith stands or falls with his view of Scripture. We do not question the Christian commitment of advocates of limited inerrancy. What we do question is the correctness of their doctrine of Scripture, as the question ours. But we consider this debate, as serious as it is, a debate between members of the household of God. May our Father bring us to unity here as he has in many glorious affirmations of his gospel.

Article above written by Dr. R.C. Sproul. “Sola Scriptura: Crucial to Evangelicalism.” The Foundations of Biblical Authority. James M. Boice, ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk Magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: THE HOLINESS OF GOD; CHOSEN BY GOD; KNOWING SCRIPTURE; WILLING TO BELIEVE; REASON TO BELIEVE; and PLEASING GOD) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL

 

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